Skip to main content

Full text of "The Gay Genius"

See other formats

FRIEND OF THE PEOPLE                     279

colleague, Chao Lingshih of the royal family,* to look at refugees
trudging through the deep snow. Chao tells how he was waked up
next morning before dawn by Su,

^/"I have not been able to sleep all night," Su told him. "I must do
something about the refugees. Perhaps we can take grain from the
government granary and make wheat cakes to feed them. My wife
says that when we were passing through Chenchow, Fu Chinchih
told us about his success in giving famine relief. We forgot to ask
him exactly what he did. That's why I'm calling you. Do you have
any suggestions?"

"I have thought about it," replied Chao. "These people need only
food and fuel. There are several thousand piculs of grain in the govern-
ment granary which we can distribute at once. There are also several
thousand tons of firewood at the wine bureau—we can give it to the
poor people."

"Good," replied Su Tungpo, "Let's do it immediately."

Thus some temporary relief was given to the immediate neighbour-
hood. But the officials in the neighbouring district south of the Huai
River were still imposing a tax on the traffic in grains and firewood,
and Su Tungpo wrote to the government to stop this nonsense, now
when the greatest freedom of movement of food and fuel supplies was

r In February. 1092, Su Tungpo wasi transferred to Yangchow. His
eldest son had been appointed to serve as a magistrate elsewhere. But
he took his two younger sons with him on his way to Yangchow to visit
the different districts of Anhuei. He dismissed the attendants and went
to the villages to talk with the people. There he saw an incredible
spectacle. The land was covered with green wheat-fields, but many
farmhouses were deserted. A year of good crops was what the farmers
most feared, because the clerks and soldiers of the district governments
would come and press them for the return of capital loans and interest
and throw them in jail. When he reached Yangchow, Su Tungpo said
in his letter of thanks for the new post that "both good years and bad
years have become calamities for the people". The farmers and the
business-men of China were trapped. They had to choose between the
alternatives of hunger and starvation during a famine year and court
proceedings and jail sentences in a good year.

This then was the aftermath of Wang Anshih's social reforms. While
at Hangchow, besides pestering the government with requests for
money and grain to forestall a coming famine, Su Tungpo had sent
also a long memorandum on the forgiveness of debts owed by the
people to the government. Trade was paralysed and even rich families

* Taking warning from the rebellion of princes of royal blood which ended tibe
Tang dynasty, the Sung house gave its princes hardly any power at aH.